News / Arts & Entertainment

Iceland Golfers Take On Lava Beds, Angry Birds and Wind

A golfer plays a shot on the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course in Rekyavik June 5, 2013. About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
A golfer plays a shot on the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course in Rekyavik June 5, 2013. About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
Reuters
The names of the world's greatest golf venues roll off the tongue like a putt rolling toward the cup. Pebble Beach. St. Andrews. Valderrama.
 
Then there are Vestmannaeyja and Porlakshafnar. Those names don't trip off the tongues of anyone except the hardy residents of Iceland. Surprisingly, this island in the frigid North Atlantic is one of the most golf-obsessed places on earth.
 
With 65 courses for a population of 322,000, Iceland has more courses per person - one for every 5,000 people -- than any other country.
 
Though many are just nine holes, that's nearly twice as many courses per capita as Scotland, according to a 2007 survey by Golf Digest. The magazine said Scotland had the most courses per capita but it didn't count countries with fewer than 500,000 people.
 
About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
 
In contrast to America and Britain, golf club membership in Iceland is still growing, albeit more slowly than before the country's banking bubble burst five years ago.
 
“We joke that if just three or four people are living near one another, they'll probably start a golf club,” said Haukur Orn Birgisson, a young attorney who serves as vice chairman of the Icelandic Golf Union.
 
Indeed, some clubs have as few as 20 members, dedicated souls who will upkeep the course themselves.
 
Birgisson's club, Golfklubberinn Oddur, just outside Reykjavik, is among the country's largest, with 1,300 members. Like most clubs in Iceland it is open to the public as well as members, charging a guest fee of 6,900 Icelandic krona ($57).
 
Iceland's golf season includes the annual Arctic Open tournament, scheduled this year for June 27 to 29. Open to amateurs and professionals alike, it's played at the Akureyri Golf Club in northern Iceland, which boasts of being “the most northerly 18-hole golf course” on earth.
 
Lava Beds, Terns, and Winds
 
Golf is popular in Iceland despite the obvious drawbacks. The season lasts just four months, from mid-May to mid-September. Summer temperatures rarely venture above 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) and even then occasional days of wicked winds and steady mist can keep all but the most foolhardy or dedicated off the course.
 
Iceland does offer unique advantages and challenges to golfers. Most notably, in June, July and August, golfers can play virtually 24 hours a day.
 
Golfklubburinn Keiler in suburban Reykjavik is booked solid all summer with starting times from 8 am until 10 pm.  Playing under the midnight sun can be surreal and sublime, especially if a tee time starts your round at 10 pm.
 
Another advantage: Iceland's cool, moist climate makes for lush, green fairways. Also, golf courses don't have trees to disrupt errant shots. Trees aren't native in Iceland.
 
Iceland does, however, have lava beds, volcanic rock from past eruptions. They dominate the rough on many courses and are filled with crevices that can swallow golf balls like a whale gulping down krill.
 
The lava beds also are nesting sites for Arctic terns, birds that migrate from pole to pole. Golfers hitting near a tern's nest will find themselves playing their next shot under aerial bombardment from the ill-tempered birds.
 
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
x
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
Formidable lava beds line the course on Heimaey Island, population 4,500, about three hours by car south east of Reykjavik. A lava flow from a 1973 volcanic eruption almost choked the harbor, but today cruise ships bring bird watchers, nature lovers and, yes, golfers.
 
The sheer cliffs, lava beds and sea vistas made it “the most dramatic course I have ever played”, said Kimber Bilby, an American from Michigan who played the course recently in calm weather with her fiance´, Bob Prust, a physician. One of their favorites was the par three 17th hole, which requires a tee shot across a sea inlet and lava beds to reach the green.
 
On the day the couple played, most golfers on the course were local Heimaey residents, many of them children of high-school and even grade-school age.
 
“I was watching the kids practice their chipping and putting, and they were awfully good,” said Prust. “It was obvious they had played the course many times.”
 
As for why golf is so popular here, Birgisson cites the Icelandic character.
 
“We always seem to go 'all in,' and golf is no exception,” he explained. “That mentality didn't serve us well leading up to the banking crisis, but it has taken us far with golf.”

You May Like

Official: S. Sudan President, Rebel Leader to Meet in Tanzania

Talks part of effort to end conflict in country that has left more than 10,000 people dead, displaced more than 1.5 million others More

Dutch Deny Link to Mystery Submarine off Sweden

Netherlands denies Russian claim that 'foreign vessel' photographed in waters off Sweden could be Dutch More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Joe Taylor sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his distinction as New York’s “Subway Idol,” and how he beat out thousands for that title. Joe performs several songs from his new CD, “Anything’s Possible.”